Gonna Do It

I'm the classic "gonna do it" guy.

This morning out for a walk with my wife, having a serious talk to which I should have been paying better attention, I remembered deciding in graduate school to write a book about writing. I had the idea. I had the motivation. I had it all.

Twenty-six years later I still haven't written it.

I meant to. No, really. I swear.

I'm the alcoholic having one more drink before I quit, the smoker down to just eight cigarettes a day and switching to vaping, the spender going frugal right after I buy a cup of coffee and a cookie. I'm that guy.

Maybe you are too.

I'm starting something. I've started already and taken this short break to tell you before I get back to it. I'm cleaning my desk.

Big freaking deal.

It kind of is though. I'm cleaning a stack of stuff I've been "gonna do." There are three folders of paper, articles, notes, and drafts some of which are a year old. It weighs on me, drags me down. It's stuff I'm gonna do but don't.

Shouldn't I be doing it right now then?

I would but in the midst of doing it I thought, "I should write about this at some point." I was about to write a sticky-note reminder to that effect. It would have gone nicely with the other sticky notes on my planner, some two months old, saying similar things.

The post I imagined would be fewer than 600 words. I can draft 700 words in twenty minutes, edit it down to size in nine more, post it in one minute, and be done within half an hour. Then, having published it, I'd be even more motivated to do the work.

I also need a few guidelines and think better when I write them down like this:

  • Only three things can be left for later and each must be nailed to a date and time in my planner.
  • My desk must be clear down to the wood. I write better with the mess of only one project before me.
  • The clearing will take no more than half an hour.
  • Anything left at the end of the half hour goes in the bin even if it's a check, a note from my wife, or a Van Gogh.

There are forces telling me to get going now or never. My wife was saying as much on our morning walk. I'm fifty and have been writing for three decades with little to show. I can't go on that way. That's not a good enough life.

What are you gonna do?


Hardly anyone thinks this will work. Ever since I've said that I'm quitting teaching, or at least quitting my teaching job, a steady stream of people have asked what I'll do next. When I'm feeling brave, I say I want to be writing. More often than not, I hear that there's no way it will work.

I understand what they're thinking and feeling because I often think and feel the same. I've been writing on the side for forty years. Longer really. Lately I write while teaching at-risk kids in a job that's killing me. Once upon a time I wrote while doing middle school. The idea of doing writing primarily, well, that sounds crazy to me too.

It also sounds so good.

The last couple weeks I've been saddled with even more trouble on the job than usual. I haven't slept well. I'm eating and drinking poorly. Writing has been a struggle. But I'm not stuck with these things. I have all sorts of choice. That's why I'm quitting the job. It's a first step toward doing something better. And I'm noticing that even when writing is hard, when I feel like I can't say anything well, it's good work that I want to be doing. That might change, but it has been true for four decades. I should pay attention to that kind of information.

Most of my troubles spring from not doing things that inspire me. Sure, it's unlikely that I can make a living wage by writing, but I'm much less likely to want to drive my car into Onondaga Lake. And yeah, I know that I haven't figured out what it is that I want to be writing, what exact story I have to tell, but I feel alive when trying to tell it. I need to chase that.

Maybe writing will make me some money. Maybe it won't. But what the hell? There's only one life given to each of us. I might as well try living it.

Energy & Momentum

My wife said, "I have no energy to do anything and I've felt like this for a long time." Yeah, I know that feeling. I have no energy to respond to email, to search for a different job, to clean the bathroom, to change out of pajamas and a ratty old hoodie. I don't feel like doing any of that. When my wife talked about having no energy I was sitting on the couch reading a book that is good but not pulling me along, one for which I don't have much energy to finish. All of which had me thinking of writing this down. For that I have plenty of energy.

Earlier we had talked about what I'll do for my next job. I did a lot of shrugging because I just don't know. I'll need to find a way to pay bills, but she was right in suggesting I seem to be waiting for some miracle, a $150,000 job for her or a million-dollar windfall out of the blue. I imagined money raining down from our ceiling, enough to buy healthcare, pay the bills, and set aside to get us through. Through the shower of bills I saw myself at the desk typing.

A writing career isn't made on wishes but maybe starts there. Earlier, I took down a notebook and found the entry from one year ago. It was about all I had to do before we went out of town later that day and how I had taken a pair of pants out of my bag to make way for a books and a notebook. At the end there I wrote of feeling like I was on the right track for a change. I had begun to really dig into writing.

I'm farther along that track now. Nowhere near any kind of destination but picking up speed. I'm picturing a long train of pages, cars overflowing with pens, tankers of ink, box cars full of typewriters, laptops, and reams of reams of paper. The train rumbles through the dark early morning. The crossing signal has dropped across the road blocking half four lanes of traffic each way. The people in those cars stare, wondering how long they will have to wait, worried about getting to jobs for which they have no energy. I jump out of my car, run along the tracks, grab hold of a ladder and pull. My feet leave the ground and I wonder if I can pull myself up and where where this train is headed. In the distance behind me, I hear the signal bells clanging. Up ahead the train's horn blows loud and low. I hang from the ladder listening to the rhythmic clack of the wheels and it sounds just like my fingers on the keys writing word after word after word.